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You can now ask Google Maps questions with new Q&A feature

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Google today announced it was adding a Q&A feature to Google Maps and Search for Android users.

When you look at a Maps page for the business or landmark, you will have the option to see questions others have asked of the business, as well as ask your own. You’ll be notified when someone else — or the owner of the page itself — answers any of your questions.

The questions will be part of the page, so when you find the page on Maps or when you search for it, you’ll see it. You can upvote helpful questions, which will appear further up the page. Business owners can add their own answered questions to preempt other viewers.

I’ll be waiting to see if the same thing will apply to continents — hey, you can review them, so why not ask them questions? If it happens, I’d be curious to know who’d answer for Antarctica.

The feature is now rolling out to Android users globally.

All your questions answered on Google Maps and Search on Google Blog

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Gadgets

YouTube returns to the Amazon Echo Show

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When the Amazon Echo Show first debuted, it included a YouTube feature, as is right and proper for a device with a screen capable of playing video and connecting to the internet. But Google quickly nixed the Echo Show YouTube player, since it was a non-standard presentation of the company’s stuff which did not comply with their terms of use.

Now, YouTube is back on Echo Show (via Voicebot), and it looks a heck of a lot different. It now much more closely resembles what you’d expect to find when browsing YouTube on the web or on a tablet, and the new look is clearly intended to bring the YouTube app on Echo Show in compliance with the requirements set forth for its use by Google and YouTube.

The original look was probably better suited to a device that’s designed to be used primarily via voice, but the new one feels more like the YouTube people know and love, so it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Still, it’s good that it’s back – the Echo Show was born for YouTube, as an idle time consumption device that likely often lives atop kitchen counters.

Amazon Echo Show now also offers Vimeo and Dailymotion video access, the company notes. A spokesperson provided the following statement:

We’re excited to offer customers the capability to watch even more video content from sources such as Vimeo, YouTube, and Dailymotion on Echo Show. More video sources will be added over time. 

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Google launches a paid enterprise edition of its Dialogflow chatbot builder

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Google today announced the beta launch of its enterprise edition of Dialogflow, its tool for building chatbots and other conversational applications.

In addition, Dialogflow (both in its free and enterprise version) is now getting built-in support for speech recognition, something that developers previously had to source through the Google Cloud Speech API or similar services. Unsurprisingly, this also speeds things up (by up to 30 percent, Google tells me), because apps only have to make a single API call.

Dialogflow now also features a number of basic analytics and monitoring capabilities, courtesy of Google’s Chatbase service.

You may still remember Dialogflow as API.AI, which was its name when Google acquired it last year, but the company has since renamed it. The main idea behind API.AI/Dialogflow was always to give companies the building blocks they need to build their conversational agents and other text- and voice-driven interactions and to make them easy to use.

To gain users quickly, the service was always available for free (with some rate restrictions), but that’s not what big enterprises want. They are happy to pay a fee in return for getting 24/7 support, SLAs and enterprise-level terms of service that promise data protection, among other things.

With the Dialogflow Enterprise Edition, they can now get all of this. Dan Aharon, Google’s product manager for Google Cloud AI, also noted that this version of Dialogflow is now part of Google Cloud. That may sound like a minor thing, but it means that enterprises that want to adopt it can do so under the same terms they already have in place for Google Cloud. “Say you are Spotify, you can now add Dialogflow pretty easily because it already answers all of the requirements of being a Google Cloud product,” he told me. This also means that users who want to sign up for the enterprise edition have to do so through the Google Cloud Platform Console.

Google is charging enterprises $0.002 per text interaction request and $0.0065 per voice interaction request.

Aharon also stressed that the free version of Dialogflow isn’t going anywhere. Indeed, free users will also get access to the new speech recognition integration, though with a limit of 1,000 interactions per day (or 15,000 per month). Both versions also continue to offer support for 14 languages and integrations with virtually any major chat and voice assistant platform, including from Google competitors like Microsoft and Amazon.

When Google acquired API.AI, it was already one of the most popular tools for building chatbots and Google argues that this momentum has only continued. Google PR told Aharon not to say that it’s the most popular tool of its kind on the market, but chances are it actually is. He told me that the service now has now signed up “hundreds of thousands” of developers — and definitely far more than the 150,000 developers number the company shared at its Cloud Next event earlier this year.

“What we hear from customers time and time again is that the quality of the natural language understanding is head and shoulders above anything they have tried,” he said. “You don’t want to deploy something in production if it’s not very, very good” (though some companies obviously do…).

Beside the natural language understanding, though, it’s also Dialogflow’s flexibility that allows developers to go beyond basic decision trees and features like a deep integration with Cloud Functions for writing basic serverless scripts right in its interface that set Dialogflow apart from some of its competitors. Dialogflow also makes it easy to connect to other applications — no matter where they are hosted. That’s something you need if you want to integrate your conversational app with your ordering and shipping systems, for example.

Aharon tells me that it took about a year to port all of the API.AI features to the Google Cloud. Now that this is done, the service’s users can profit from all of Google’s investments in AI and machine learning. And given that Google is doing its best to attract more enterprises to its platform, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Dialogflow is joining this parade now, too.


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Essential offers up an Android Oreo beta for the Essential Phone

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Android smartphone maker Essential promised that it would be releasing an update to Android 8.0 Oreo for its devices soon, and now there’s a beta version of the update available through its developer portal. This is just a beta, as mentioned, but it’s broadly available for anyone interested enough in the Oreo update to try out pre-release software.

As mentioned, Essential said it would deliver an Oreo update back in September, with a promise that it would arrive sometime “in the next couple months.” Oreo was just released for Pixel phones back in August, and came to the Galaxy S8 and S8+ in beta form earlier this month, which means Essential Phones are among the first smartphones to receive the update.

Oreo comes with a few significant changes, including badge notifications for individual apps, a redesigned settings menu and a number of behind-the-scenes improvements designed to help with system speed, overall performance and battery life.

To get the beta, you’ll have to sign up for the beta builds and then grab the update as a download to sideload to your device. It’s not necessarily for the faint of heart, since it also involves installing the latest ADB tool and a bit of technical savvy. But the beta arrival also means the stable version should be available over-the-air before too long.
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